There was a time not long ago when the arrival of a new console generation would usher in a whole new era of possibilities for developers and gamers alike. It would open an entirely new world of opportunities for the developers to take due to the advancement in technical specs that each new console brought with it. Be it something as basic as an important evolution in processing from 8-bit to 16-bit consoles or the evolution in storage where compact-discs of PlayStation brought in the level of graphical sophistication few had ever imagined was possible.
Such was the time when game design walked hand-in-hand with technology. Its evolution tied synonymously with technology. Developers and gamers waited anxiously for the next console generation because not only would games get graphically sharper and awe-inspiring to look at but the higher technical specifications allowed for experimentation in design beyond what was capable before.
Who didn’t drop their jaw in amazement when three important games – Super Mario 64, Grand Theft Auto III and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion expanded the concept of “open-ended” games at the start of the last three console generations?
I believe we have finally reached the limit where the technical leap in graphical processing and memory storage over console generations ceases to be as significant a factor in evolution of game design as it was before. With multi-platforms increasingly becoming the dominating breed and the next-gen Sony and Microsoft consoles looking like they will be fairly similar in processing capability, the only thing that is going to separate the consoles now (besides the exclusives) are the control schemes – which is admittedly a topic of concern for many gamers and the developers’ creativity itself which is a questionable variable in today’s era of low-risk publishers. However, graphical, memory and processor evolution will cease to be as significant a factor as they were before. Their curves have technically been beaten.
Nintendo was the first to break the ice by adopting a wholly unique controller last-gen with Wii and they have stuck with their motto of innovation through controls with the Wii U as well. Sony and Microsoft may have won brownie points among the certain sections of gaming community by sticking to traditional controllers but even they couldn’t escape the lure of mass-appeal that such motion-sensing controllers held. Kinect and PS Move were their attempts which were admittedly far less successful in appeal or innovation. With rumours that PS4 may be ditching DualShock in favour of another controller and Microsoft still marketing Kinect as if their life depended upon it (maybe it does) it isn’t impossibility that we may see all the consoles next-gen incorporating unconventional controllers in some or the other form. I doubt they would ditch traditional controllers entirely – it would be too high-risk that can alienate the entire fanbase but I think motion-sensing in one form or the other is here to stay for now –whether we like it or not.
That would mean developers will have to think “out of the box” and incorporate these unique control schemes in some or the other form. Nobody wants to be the “dumb developer” who couldn’t think of a unique way to use the “Shiny New Innovative” controller that the console offers. This can lead to either one of these two scenarios – a) games with poor controls where the “unique” clearly had to be forced in for the sake of it. We have already seen examples of this on Wii (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Red Steel) and Wii U (ZombiiU) where developers unable to think of using the Nunchuk or the GamePad ending up screwing the entire game or b) games that are actually innovative and the unique control schemes allow developers to experiment beyond the scope of what was earlier possible.
Developers will have to dig deep into their creative pool because hiding behind new technology won’t be helping them for long. The “amazed by new-gen graphics” period will get progressively shorter and it’s going to be ideas that are going to come to their rescue. Low-risk publishers notwithstanding, if the developers plan to be successful in the next-gen they will have to be creative with what they come up with.
Therein lies the true scope of innovation in game design in the next-gen consoles. Not in the graphical or processing leap – realistic faces won’t be getting realistic by a whole lot, whether you use photo-capture or not, Mr.David Cage and going for a smoother frame-rate beyond 60FPS is absurd and doesn’t even make sense.
Come next-gen, we shall hopefully be playing more innovative and sophisticatedly designed games while waving our arms around in front of motion-sensing camera like our animal kingdom ancestors.
Evolution has reached a full circle.